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Theories and Methods of Middle East and Islamic Studies 1


Note: the first meeting for this course will take place on Monday, September 7, 15-17 hs, in the basement of building Matthias de Vrieshof 3.

Admission requirements

Admission to the MA Middle Eastern Studies. Given the number of students admitted to the MA Middle Eastern Studies, this course will unfortunately not be available for other students.


What is historiography? What is the Middle East? Does the historiography of the Middle East display defining characteristics that distinguish it from, for example, European historiography? Can the study and analysis of Middle East historiography reveal as much about Western perspectives of the Middle East as it does about the “actual” history of the region? Using these broad questions as points of departure, this course will survey the Western canon of historical writing on the region we now know as the Middle East. In the process, it will seek to place this body of literature in the context of larger historical and historiographical trends by reviewing major theoretical and methodological developments in the humanities and social sciences, examining their employment in concrete research projects focusing on the Middle East, and analyzing the resulting debates that have ensued within the profession. This course is designed for graduate students who have an interest in the Middle East.

Unit 1: The Orientalism Debate
Unit 2: Social and Labor History
Unit 3: Modernization Theory
Unit 4: Women, Gender, and Sexuality
Unit 5: Role of Nationalism
Unit 6: The Cultural Turn
Unit 7: The Influence of Michel Foucault
Unit 8: Post-Colonial and Subaltern Studies.

Course objectives

  • to develop the skills and insights that are necessary to evaluate existing research and to design and carry out empirical research projects;

  • to obtain familiarity with the theories developed in social sciences and their application in the study of the Middle East and Islam;

  • to understand the merits and drawbacks of these theories both in general and in specific cases;

  • to develop and carry out a small research project on a well-defined topic, based on primary source texts;

  • to report on research findings orally (by reading a paper) and in writing, in accordance with the basic standards of historical scholarship.

Time table


Mode of instruction

  • Seminar.

Attendance and participation are obligatory.

Assessment method

The course consists primarily of discussion of assigned readings and written assignments. One or two students will give short oral presentations consisting of an analytical reflection on, not a summary, of the assigned readings each week to open the discussion.

Students will be graded on the basis of three assignments:

  1. Attendance and Participation (40%). This component includes presentations (10%), written summaries of eight (8) of the week’s readings, including questions for discussions (15%), and participation in the general discussions (15%).
    1. Short Essay (25%). Each student will submit a 5-7 page paper (1250-1750 words) on one of the weekly assignments. This partial examination may not be rewritten.
    2. Paper. Each student will write a 10-12 page (2500-3000 words) literature review/introduction of their MA thesis in consultation with the instructor. This component constitutes 35% of the final grade.

In order to pass the course, students must obtain an overall mark of 5.50 (=6) or higher. Students receiving an overall grade of 5.49 (=5) or lower, will be allowed to write two papers: 1) a paper that integrates the readings of the entire course and discusses their contribution to the fields of Islamic and Middle East Studies. 2) a book review of an influential work in the field determined by the convener of the course. Length and due date of both papers will also be determined by the convener of the course. These two papers will replace the 35% component (3).

The course is an integrated whole. The final examination and the assignments must be completed in the same academic year. No partial marks can be carried over into following years.

Reading list

  • Benedict Anderson. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. New York: Verso, 1991.
    • Michel Foucault. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. New York: Vintage, 1995.
    • Zachary Lockman. Contending Visions of the Middle East: The History and Politics of Orientalism. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004.
    • Joseph Massad. Desiring Arabs. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007.
    • Timothy Mitchell. Rule of Experts: Egypt, Techno-Politics, Modernity. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2002.
    • Timothy Mitchell. Colonizing Egypt. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2008.
    • Edward Said. Orientalism. New York: Vintage, 1994.
    • (Other selected readings)

Course load

  • 3 contact hours per week = 13×3: 39 hours
    • 10 hours reading for each class: 120 hours
    • 8 writing assignments: 34 hours
    • Preparing the presentation: 20 hours
    • Short essay: 15 hours
    • Final paper/introduction: 52 hours
    Total course load: 280 hours


Students are required to register through uSis. To avoid mistakes and problems, students are strongly advised to register in uSis through the activity number which can be found in the timetable in the column under the heading “Act.nbr.”.

Not being registered, means no permission to attend this course. See also the ‘Registration procedures for classes and examinations’ for registration deadlines and more information on how to register.



Contact information

Dr. T. (Tsolin) Nalbantian


Students with disabilities

The university is committed to supporting and accommodating students with disabilities as stated in the university protocol (especially pages 3-5). Students should contact Fenestra Disability Centre at least four weeks before the start of their courses to ensure that all necessary academic accommodations can be made in time conform the abovementioned protocol.

Academic Integrity

Students are expected to be familiar with Leiden University policies on plagiarism and academic integrity. Plagiarism will not be tolerated. If you submit any work with your name affixed to it, it is assumed to be your own work with all sources used properly indicated and documented in the text (with quotations and/or citations).